Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Your 2014 Masters Preview

Hello friends.

Hello friends.
It's the first full week in April, and that can only mean one thing. It's Masters week.

As we know due to the nonstop commercials and Jim Nantz's buttery vocals, the PGA Tour's first major is a tradition unlike any other. The rolling green hills, pearl-white bunkers, and skin-smooth greens of Augusta National provide one of the tour's toughest tests, and that's without factoring in the decades of history. Names like Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Tiger Woods (to name a few) come whistling through the pines at every turn. Every hole is famous, and every golfer in the field, no matter how many times they've played Augusta, will be laboring under the knowledge that they're making history. 

In short, it's a tough tournament to win. In fact, since 1986, 17 of the winners have been ranked in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings. Hat tip to ESPN on that one. 

So it's the most historic and renowned major, and also the first time that the casual sports fan starts caring about golf during the year. That's great. But who's going to win it?

I'll tell you. 

Three Real Contenders

(This might get long quick (ZING), so I'm only gonna write up the three guys who I see having a real shot at winning this thing. Invariably, I'll be wrong, but these three are the best bets. After that, I'll throw in a sentence or two on some other folks of note.) 

Phil Mickelson

My secret? Daily Bloody Marys... with human blood.
Phil finally got over the hump, both figuratively and literally, last year when he won the British Open at Muirfield. Never known as a links player, Phil adapted his game well enough to conquer one of Scotland's toughest tracks. After listening to his press conference today, I can say that he's still flying high from that victory, even though he hasn't finished better than 12th in a tournament since October. It seems like he's becoming a bit Tigerish in his later years, focusing much more on the majors than the regular events. Augusta sets up well for lefties, as you can see from the victories of Mike Weir, Bubba Watson, and Phil himself. There's no clear favorite this year, but if I had to choose, I'd put my money on Phil the Thrill.

Rory McIlroy
Mom made pizza rolls!
If there's such a thing as a consensus pick to win this thing, it's the squinty-eyed Irishman pictured above. Rory has been on a tear lately, dropping a hot 65 on the field this past Sunday to finish 7th at the Shell Houston Open. He's had three top-10s and no finish worse than 25th since October. If history is any indication, Rory should win. From ESPN: " None of the previous four Masters winners had a PGA Tour win that season before their victory at Augusta, but they all entered the major with strong, if not overwhelming, season resumes." Sounds exactly like what Rory's doing. His downfall? The mental side. McIlroy collapsed down the stretch at Augusta in 2011, then rebounded to win the US Open that year by about 12,000 strokes. His other major win is the 2012 PGA Championship where he again lapped the field. He's never had to sweat for a win on the back nine of a major Sunday. And at this point in his career, I don't think he has the stones for it.

Adam Scott

You would? Really? Well, thanks very much. Talk to me after the press conference.
Scottie the Aussie won this whole thing last year, in one of the year's best redemption stories (quick recap: he just imploded on the back nine at the British the year before, dropping 4 shots on the final 4 holes to lose to Ernie Els). He's got a picture-perfect swing, he's long off the tee, and he has the major monkey off his back. Only three golfers have repeated as Masters champion: Nicklaus in 1965-66, Faldo in 1989-90, and Woods in 2000-01. An unshabby list. The Awesome Aussie has the talent to pull it off.

Other Notables

Tiger Woods - Not entered. Unfortunately, not an April Fool's joke, though it was announced on 4/1. 
Jason Day - Lots of good buzz around this dude. Always in the mix - has finished top 3 in 2 of the last 3 Masters.
Bubba Watson - People are all over the place on Bubba. I tend to think his win was a fluke. Doesn't have the short game to win another Masters. 
Rickie Fowler - Depending on whether or not Mickelson was lying in his press conference, may have shot a 61 in a practice round today. Unreal skill, matching swagger. If he gets on a roll, watch out.
Dustin Johnson - Another ridiculous talent who has so far been unable to cash in at a major. I personally hate Dustin Johnson because he plays like he doesn't care whether he wins or loses. 
Brandt Snedeker - While I respect Sned's desire to win the Masters, I just can't get past the actual way he plays. Those who have watched him will know what I mean - he's all quick little rabbity movements and jerky, unfluid swings. Awful to watch. Hope he misses the cut.
Sergio Garcia - The ultimate wild card. The consensus best player to never win a major, Sergio might put it all together this week. Or he might have a total meltdown. He's appointment television either way.
Henrik Stenson - Ruthlessly efficient, highly skilled, seemingly unflappable. These adjectives used to describe Tiger Woods, back when he was winning Masters seemingly every two weeks. Now, they describe Henrik Stenson. Don't be surprised to see him hovering near the top of the leaderboard.
Matt Kuchar - I personally love Kuchar's playing style as much as I hate Snedeker's. However, Kooch has lost two tournaments in the past two weeks on Sunday. I think that's true. It's 11:30 and I'm trying to go to bed soon, so I'm not gonna fact check that. But basically, he's been falling apart on Sundays lately and that's never good to have in the back of your mind when heading into Augusta. 

Interesting Nuggets

- Trevor Immelman (odds to win: 150/1) has not missed a cut at Augusta since winning the tournament in 2008. 
- The same dude is the only fellow in the last 29 years to win the tournament after leading at the end of the first round.
- Looking for a good course to compare to Augusta? Peep the Blue Monster at Doral. Host course of the WGC-Cadillac Championship in early March, this long course in Florida does a decent job of predicting success at Augusta. Again, from ESPN: "Over the past ten years, the Masters winner played earlier in the season at Doral nine times...All nine made the cut at Doral, and four of them finished in the top 10." The winner at Doral this year? Youngster Patrick Reed.
- According to the rules of how my mind thinks math works, Sergio Garcia is due for a 3rd-place finish this year at the Masters. He's gone 45th-35th-12th-8th the past 4 years. He's trending in the right direction.
- True story: Angel Cabrera sits in a porch swing and smokes cigars for 11 months of the year. He only rises from his throne to contend at the Masters.
- Jordan Spieth is my favorite player on Tour. He's 20 years old and he's just incredible. In fact, he's already listed at only 22/1 to win the whole thing. Though I doubt that happens, he's going to be a name to remember for quite some time.
- Want to put down a tenner on someone to make some real cash? Try Matteo Manassero. Another 20-year-old, the Italian is the youngest player to win a European Tour event, and has already gotten two cracks at Augusta. Third time's a charm.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Inigo Martinez Speculative Rip of the Week: Alexander Tettey

In a battle between two relegation-threatened Premier League sides, Norwich City put away Jozy Altidore and Sunderland 2-0 on March 22. One of the Canaries' goals came on this absolute thumper from midfielder Alexander Tettey.

Actually, check that. It wasn't a thumper. It was something much better than that. A wonderful website called 101 Great Goals described it perfectly. Their phrase for this rocket:

An "incredible thunderbastard."

Yes, that's right, they called it a fucking THUNDERBASTARD.

God I love the Brits.